Category Archives: Strategic Outlook

Predictions and forecasting.

The Next Great Space Race: From a Sprint to a Marathon

NAFAC Week

By Madison Fox

In 2010, during a speech at the John F. Kennedy Space Center, President Obama ushered in a new era of American space exploration, marked by intense partnership with United Sate’s industry leaders.1 In the past, specifically during the Cold War Space Race of the 1960s, the United States’ achievements in space served as a bright beacon of the power of free markets, society, government, and innovation.2 Now, as tensions rise once again, and not only as space exploration but habitation become realistic possibilities, America will once again be called upon to lead. In this work, I hope to illustrate how the U.S. has done so thus far, and will continue to do so in the coming decades, with particular assistance from their most valuable resource, competitive innovation.

In the past decade, NASA’s budget has been on the chopping block. In fact, since 1993, NASA’s budget has never exceeded 1 percent of the federal budget; this is in stark comparison with 1966, when NASA received 4.41 percent of the entirety of the federal budget, it would seem the U.S. government no longer sees space exploration as a priority.3 Yet, many world-renowned scientists, businessmen, and even historians feel otherwise. The quest for space exploration has evolved to a quest for space habitation. The more humans learn about the universe we live in, the more aware we have become of our own precarious position in it. All of humanity’s achievements could come to a succinct end at the hand of any number of cosmological events, over which we have little to no control. While it may seem like science fiction or a doomsayer’s heedless cry, the possibilities are very real and must be considered in all their weight.

Threats to humanity are not solely man-made. While weapons of mass destruction are reaching far greater levels of effectiveness, possibly in space, Mother Nature maintains her own arsenal. The most obvious threat to humanity, and the threat that wiped out our predecessors on this planet, is an asteroid. The massive number of asteroids in our solar system mean that an asteroid strike is not just a possibility but highly probable; in fact, estimates put the likelihood of dying of an asteroid strike as high as 1 in 200,000, the same as dying in a passenger aircraft crash.4 As recently as 1908, a relatively small object, only 200-ft wide, landed in Siberia and brought with it the destructive power of 1,000 Hiroshima bombs, leveling 100 miles of forest.5 A mere 81 years later, a much larger asteroid passed within 400,000 miles of Earth, in a space Earth had occupied only 6 hours earlier. The effects of asteroids can be as “harmless” as a Hiroshima bomb or as harmful as Carl Sagan’s nuclear winter theory, and even extinction, as was the case with the dinosaurs.6 It is not  a possibility we can dismiss as sensational, but one for which we must actively prepare. But even if asteroids aren’t convincing enough, other threats like the reversal of Earth’s magnetic field, giant solar flares, and rogue black holes, all have strong precedence in scientific research and would lead to cataclysmic results for our home planet.7

Our realization of the Earth’s precarious position in the cosmos has been the gun that set off the next great space race: the race to Mars. No longer in the realm of science fiction, billions of dollars have been invested by both private and public entities to assess the feasibility of the red planet as a harbor for humanity. The leaders of the effort are NASA and SpaceX, who have been working together over the past decade, a true testament to American economic and scientific principles.8 There has, in effect, been a divvying up of responsibilities between NASA and corporate space enterprises. Companies like SpaceX, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Orbital ATK, have taken on the physical logistics of space travel, after NASA retired its space shuttle program in 2011.9 Since then, it has shifted its focus on to the research required to achieve successful and sustained life beyond Earth, and it has been effective in doing so. As Elon Musk, the founder and head of SpaceX stated, his company’s mission is to build a modern day Union Pacific Railroad, but it is NASA’s mission to promote the feasibility of moving “West.”10

In December of 2008, NASA awarded two of the most forward thinking corporations in the world, Boeing and SpaceX, contracts for completing cargo shipments to the International Space Station.11 While the companies are perfecting their spacecraft, NASA has relied on Russia for transport to and from the American-funded and Russian-built International Space Station. Since 2006, the United States has been paying Russia for seats in it spaceship, Soyuz, the only spaceship on Earth able to transport humans to and from the ISS.12 In 2007, NASA was paying $21.8 million per seat for a ride in the Soyuz.13 In 2011, however, when NASA grounded its shuttles, prices skyrocketed, with the most recent estimates coming in at roughly $81 million for a 2018 seat.14 As tension builds, it is high time the United States took its mark in the next great space race.

World War II enlightened man to his own destructive power, and resulted in the Space Race of the 1960’, a quest for faster, cheaper, better missiles to dominate outside threats. In this present environment, with tensions between nations and ever increasing offensive capabilities, and Mother Nature in all her power and unpredictability, it is no longer a question of if the United Sates will compete in the next great space race, but how. Gone are the days of 250,000 miles, the distance to the moon; the next space race will measure around 250 million miles, the distance from our home planet to our neighbor, Mars.15 Only through sheer human ingenuity will man achieve such a goal, and it is the economic, scientific, and social climate of the United States that will allow us to break the ribbon across the next finish line of human exploration.

Madison Fox is a junior at The College of William & Mary. She has spent the past academic year studying abroad at Oxford University, resulting in a deep respect for both pubs and America. Upon graduation, she intends on pursuing a career in financial consulting and to eventually earn MBA. 

Citations

Grush, Loren, The biggest lingering questions about SpaceX’s Mars colonization plans. The Verge, September 28, 2016. http://www.theverge.com/2016/9/28/13087110/spacex-elon-musk-mars-plan-habwwharton.upenn.edu/live/news/1619-the-implications-of-the-privatization-of-space#.

References

1. Barack Obama, ” REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT ON SPACE EXPLORATION IN THE 21ST CENTURY” (speech, John F. Kennedy Space Center, Merritt Island, Florida, April 15, 2010), NASA.

2. Barack Obama, ” REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT ON SPACE EXPLORATION IN THE 21ST CENTURY” (speech, John F. Kennedy Space Center, Merritt Island, Florida, April 15, 2010), NASA.

3. Shi, Lina. “The Implications of the Privatization of Space Exploration.” Penn Wharton, University of Pennsylvania, Public Policy Initiative.

4. Stephen, Petranek. “10 Ways the World Could End.” Filmed September 2002. TED video, 29:42. Posted September 2007.

5. Stephen, Petranek. “10 Ways the World Could End.” Filmed September 2002. TED video, 29:42. Posted September 2007.

6. Stephen, Petranek. “10 Ways the World Could End.” Filmed September 2002. TED video, 29:42. Posted September 2007.

7. Stephen, Petranek. “10 Ways the World Could End.” Filmed September 2002. TED video, 29:42. Posted September 2007.

8. Loren Grush, The biggest lingering questions about SpaceX’s Mars colonization plans. The Verge, September 28, 2016

9. Shi, Lina. “The Implications of the Privatization of Space Exploration.” Penn Wharton, University of Pennsylvania, Public Policy Initiative.

10. Loren Grush, The biggest lingering questions about SpaceX’s Mars colonization plans. The Verge, September 28, 2016

11. Shi, Lina. “The Implications of the Privatization of Space Exploration.” Penn Wharton, University of Pennsylvania, Public Policy Initiative.

12. Dave Mosher and Skye Gould, Introducing NASA is paying Russia more than $70 million to bring an astronaut home in this spaceship tonight (Business Insider, September 6, 2016)

13. Dave Mosher and Skye Gould, Introducing NASA is paying Russia more than $70 million to bring an astronaut home in this spaceship tonight (Business Insider, September 6, 2016)

14. Dave Mosher and Skye Gould, Introducing NASA is paying Russia more than $70 million to bring an astronaut home in this spaceship tonight (Business Insider, September 6, 2016)

15. Petranek, Stephen. “Your kids might live on Mars. Here’s how they’ll survive.” Filmed March 2015. TED video, 17:14.

Featured Image: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Heavy first stage land landing. (Photo: SpaceX)

The US-India Logistics Agreement and its Implications for Asia’s Strategic Balance

The following article was originally featured by the Pacific Forum-CSIS’s PacNet series and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here.           

By Abhijit Singh 

Recently, editorial columns in Indian newspapers have become a battleground for strategic commentators to debate the merits of India’s defense logistics pact with the United States. Despite a public declaration by the Indian government regarding the “non-military” nature of the Logistics Exchange Memoranda of Agreement (LEMOA), the pact hasn’t resonated favorably with a section of India’s strategic elite, who reject the idea of providing the US military with operational access to Indian facilities. New Delhi might have much to gain from the LEMOA, which could be critical in establishing a favorable balance of power in Asia.

The critics argue that the arrangement does not benefit India in the same way that it advantages the US military. As a leading Indian defense analyst put it, “the government seems to have been guided more by the fear of being accused of succumbing to pressure from Washington and less by an evaluation of whether this might benefit India’s military.” As a result, Indian defense ministry officials find themselves under pressure to explain why they believe an agreement with the US on military logistics is in India’s best interests.

New Delhi’s stock response has been that the pact is strictly “conditional,” and allows access to supplies and services to the military forces of both countries only when engaged in a specific set of predetermined activities. At a press conference in Washington after the signing of the agreement, Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar was at pains to explain that the agreement has nothing to do with the setting up of a military base. “It’s only about logistics support to each other’s fleet” he averred, “like supply of fuel, supply of many other things which are required for joint operations, humanitarian assistance and many other relief operations.”

And yet there is little denying that in today’s maritime environment, every ‘place’ that provides logistics support essentially performs the role of a peacetime military base, albeit in limited ways. This is because operational logistics is the life-blood of contemporary maritime missions. Any ocean-going navy that can secure logistical pit-stops can guarantee itself a wider operational footprint in distant littorals. In fact, leading maritime powers, including the United States, Russia and China, are reluctant to set up permanent bases in distant lands because what they aim to achieve in terms of strategic presence is made possible through low-level repair and replenishment ‘places.’  To be sure, with over 800 foreign military installations, the US still has a globe-girdling presence, but few of its existing overseas facilities are permanent military bases.

To better appreciate why foreign military bases do not enjoy the same appeal as in earlier times, one must study the history of their evolution. The permanent naval base was a product of 19th-century politics when Britain, the leading maritime power, set up a network of military bases around the world to sustain its global supremacy. In the latter half of the 20th century, Britain was replaced by the United States, which soon came to dominate the world’s economic and strategic landscape. The US system of military bases consisted of several thousand installations at hundreds of basing sites in over 100 countries. The logic of the military basing system was intimately related to the dynamics of conflict. A military base was seen as a forward deployment position to enforce a denial regime on the enemy. It was a useful way of keeping the pressure on adversaries, and it allowed the US military to dominate the international system and prevent the rise of another hegemon.

But the logic of overseas bases has eroded. The absence of a real war in the intervening years has seen the law of diminishing returns kick in vis-à-vis foreign military bases, and an attenuation of their animating rationale. After struggling with rising domestic opposition to its military presence in Asia, the United States has been looking for more pragmatic options.

Since prolonged military presence on a foreign land isn’t a practical solution to any of its strategic problems, the US has been prioritizing logistics pacts that involve continuing support of rotational troops but no permanent deployments. These are variants of the “Acquisition and Cross-Service Agreements” (ACSAs) – or logistical arrangements for military support, supplies, and services (food, fuel, transportation, ammunition, and equipment) – that the United States shares with many of its NATO partners. And yet, despite being avowedly in support of peacetime operations and regional humanitarian contingencies, these pacts have not changed the public perception that US military presence overseas advance America’s imperialist ambitions.

A case in point is the recent Extended Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with Manila, which provides the US military access to five military bases in Philippines. Even though the agreement was signed in 2014, strong domestic opposition within Philippines from civil rights groups resulted in a legal stalemate at the country’s Supreme Court. In January this year, when the court finally ruled in the pact’s favor, its decision seemed motivated mainly by the China-factor – the increased threat posed by China in the Philippines’ near-seas.

While the defense pact has a limited objective – enabling US troops to rotate through the Philippines, ensuring a persistent but intermittent presence – the new military facilities in Philippines aren’t expected to be any less potent than the United States’ erstwhile permanent bases in the country. The infrastructure will facilitate a spectrum of peacetime missions in the South China Sea, including training and capacity building, area patrols, aerial surveys, and fleet exercises. It will also enable the Philippines to call upon the US for critical military assistance in the event of a crisis.

The United States isn’t the only country to depend on military logistics pacts to achieve broader strategic objectives. Increasingly, China is resorting to the same means. The PLA’s logistical base at Djibouti doesn’t just provide support for China’s anti-piracy missions, but also enables a round-the-year naval presence in the Indian Ocean. What is more, China’s recent commercial facilities in the Indian Ocean Region seem more in the nature of dual-use bases, which can quickly be upgraded to medium-grade military facilities in a crisis.

New Delhi must come to terms with the fact that LEMOA’s utility lies in facilitating greater US-India operational coordination in Asia. Notwithstanding Parrikar’s assurances to the contrary, closer maritime interaction between India and the US will increasingly involve operational access to each other’s bases for strategic purposes. Even if the necessary cooperation is cleared on a case-by-case basis and driven mainly by regional capacity building and HADR needs, the Indian Navy and the US Navy might find themselves acting increasingly in concert to achieve common strategic objectives in the regional commons.

This does not mean LEMOA promotes US geopolitical interests at India’s expense. If anything, the pact empowers the Indian Navy to expand its own operations in the Indo-Pacific region. It is an aspiration that the Navy professed to recently when it released a map for public viewing that showed Indian naval deployments over the past 12 months, spread across the Indian Ocean and the Pacific region.

Given the fraught nature of security in the Asian commons, India has been looking for ways to emphasize a rules-based order in the region. To consolidate its status as a crucial security provider, the Indian Navy will need to act in close coordination with the US Navy, the leading maritime power in Indo-Pacific, to ensure a fair, open, and balanced regional security architecture.

Abhijit Singh (abhijit.singh27@gmail.com), a former Indian naval officer, is Senior Fellow and Head, Maritime Policy Initiative at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) in New Delhi. You can follow him on Twitter at @abhijit227.

Featured Image: Secretary of Defense Ash Carter speaks with Indian Naval Officers as he tours Indian Naval Station Karwar as part of a visit to the Indian aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, April 11, 2016. Carter is visiting India to solidify the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region.(Photo by Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz)(Released)

Naval Applications of Robotic Birds

Naval Applications of Tech

Written by Terence Bennett, Naval Applications of Tech discusses how emerging and disruptive technologies can be used to make the U.S. Navy more effective. It examines potential and evolving developments in the tech industry, communication platforms, computer software and hardware, mechanical systems, power generation, and other areas.

“The most damaging phrase in the language is ‘We’ve always done it this way!’” Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper in an interview in Information Week, March 9, 1987, p. 52

By Terence Bennett

The era of the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) has arrived. Phased implementation of the Navy MQ-XX program began this year through a reinvestment in the X-47B unmanned aircraft for use in aerial refueling and Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR). In May of this year the Navy installed the first UAV Command Center aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson. These moves demonstrate the need for, and versatility of, sea-based UAVs, and may signal the beginning of a revolutionary migration in naval warfare. Large, land-based ISR UAVs have been operationally employed by the Navy since 2008 with the deployment of the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance-Demonstrator (BAMS-D). Smaller, tactical level UAVs like the Scan Eagle have been in use by the Navy since 2004. To date, all these aircraft have one thing in common: they employ traditional aircraft design to meet their requirement for high power. A new generation of biomimetic UAVs that imitate the natural flight of birds has been developed and shows promising application to Navy missions.

The U.S. Air Force and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have been working on insect-inspired UAVs recently popularized in the media. Some technology, like Aerovironment’s Hummingbird, has successfully implemented the design of bird flight into UAV design. A French inventor has created another little bird, but with a maritime twist. The Bionic Bird mimics the flight and behavior of the swallow and apparently so convincingly that it attracts other swallows and predators alike. Swallows are a common symbol in Navy life because they often appear when ships near land and are thus symbols of good luck.

bionic-bird
The Bionic Bird (mybionicbird.com)

Edwin Van Ruymbeke, inventor of the $120 Bionic Bird,  proved that small, fast, and maneuverable machines can be inexpensively manufactured. The XTIM Bionic Bird is marketed as a toy, but its technology may prove useful to the Navy. One day, the Bionic Sparrow may visit ships bringing a lot more than good luck.

Using a similar approach, the German company Festo invented a larger UAV dubbed the ’Smartbird,’ which is modeled after a Herring Gull (or seagull).1 It looks surprisingly similar to a real seagull and, at a distance, could be easily disguised as one. The Smartbird’s clever engineering and lightweight design allow for its takeoff and flight to be powered entirely by the biomimicry-inspired twisting flap of its wings. The efficiency of the design is hidden in the specially-developed flapping motion, the size (6.5 foot wingspan), and the weight (1 lb) of the Smartbird. The Smartbird is powered by a 23 Watt motor which, to put in perspective, is roughly the power consumption of a small household fan (model Honeycomb HT-900). This low power requirement is truly remarkable and opens possibilities for major advances in UAV technology.

Although NASA has made many breakthroughs in the deployment of high-efficiency, high-altitude, solar-powered UAVs, the Smartbird offers a very promising solution for application in the low altitude naval environment. The 23 Watt motor of the Smartbird could be charged through a small (2 square foot) solar panel on its wings. The primary problem with solar-power solutions in aviation is weight. The Smartbird works because it is light, so to add any substantial weight to it nullifies the advances of the technology. Through modeling the efficiencies between power and weight, researchers may be able to develop a deployable Smartbird technology with payload carrying capability. An exciting application of this technology would be an ultra-efficient communication relay that could follow a strike group indefinitely and provide a dedicated over-the-horizon data link for the geographic area. This would reduce the need for each ship to have a dedicated satellite communication link and could provide for greater redundancy of systems.

robird-anti-vogeldrohne-clear-air-solutions-jpg-8335688
Clear Air Solutions’ Robird (Clear Flight Solutions)

In some civilian airports and harbors, biomimetic UAVs are already providing a significant contribution to operations through bird control. Clear Flight Solutions manufactures the Robird for use at airports and harbor facilities because of its ability to prevent the loitering and nesting of small birds. The Department of Defense, which reports roughly 3000 bird strikes a year, is bound by strict federal legislation when it comes to the conservation of bird species. A 2002 federal court ruling actually shut down Navy training in Guam due to the violation of the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The Robird may be a new and exciting tool for the Navy to efficiently and sustainably control bird populations and their very real effect on Navy operations.

This new generation of energy efficient, quiet, and innocuous UAVs has tremendous potential for intelligence collection, communication relay, and even the mundane task of bird control. Future maritime UAVs will likely serve the fleet in many ways while blending into the horizon like the many birds we rarely notice. By taking a hint from nature, we can adapt our UAVs to have the same advantages that maritime birds have over land-based birds. This may mean long-range travel, survivability in high winds, and even high-speed predatory diving. It is remarkable what we can learn from nature and copy for the Navy’s use.

LT Bennett is a former Surface Warfare Officer and current Intelligence Officer. The views express herein are solely those of the author and are presented in his personal capacity on his own initiative. They do not reflect the official positions of the Department of the Navy, Department of Defense, or any other U.S. Government agency.

1.”Festo: Smartbird.” Aerodynamic Lightweight Design with Active Torsion. April 2011. Accessed September 21, 2016. Aerodynamic lightweight design with active torsion.

Featured Image: X-47B in flight after first-ever catapult launch from USS George H.W. Bush in May 2013.(U.S. Navy)

After Distributed Lethality – Unmanned Netted Lethality

Distributed Lethality Topic Week

By Javier Gonzalez

Distributed lethality was introduced to the fleet in January 2015 as a response to the development of very capable anti-access area-denial (A2/AD) weapons and sensors specifically designed to deny access to a contested area. The main goal is to complicate the environment for our adversaries by increasing surface-force lethality—particularly with our offensive weapons—and transform the concept of operations for surface action groups (SAGs), thus shifting the enemy’s focus from capital ships to every ship in the fleet. Rear Admiral Fanta said it best: “If it floats, it fights.” The real challenge is to accomplish this with no major funding increase, no increase in the number of ships, and no major technology introductions. The Navy has successfully implemented this concept by repurposing existing technology and actively pursuing long-range anti-ship weapons for every platform. An illustrative example of the results of these efforts is the current initiative to once again repurpose Tomahawk missiles, currently used for land strikes, as anti-ship missiles. The next step in the evolution of distributed lethality will be to deploy similar force packages and introduce new technology. The introduction of  Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) technology is the kind of technological advancement that enhances distributed lethality. NIFC-CA combines multiple kill chains into a single kill web agnostic of sensors or platforms. In the near future, hunter-killer SAGs will deploy with these very capable networks and bring powerful and credible capability into the A2/AD environment

The first hunter-killer SAG deployed earlier this year. It was comprised of three destroyers and a command element. This recent SAG mirrors the World War II “wolf pack” concept—not just a disaggregated group of destroyers in theater under a different fleet commander, but a group of ships sailing together with an embarked command element. The embarked command element is key because, coupled with the concept of “mission command,” it allows the hunter-killer SAG the autonomy required to fully realize effects in a command and control denied environment.

While there is no argument that distributed lethality is a sound short-term strategy, the enemy has a vote and will adjust. The real challenge for the Navy then is to continue finding ways to innovate and rapidly incorporate new technologies such as unmanned systems to ensure that distributed lethality does not yield to distributed attrition. The best way to prevent distributed attrition is to fully integrate unmanned technologies into the fleet to ultimately transform distributed lethality into a new concept, hereby referred to as Unmanned Netted Lethality. 

Evolving Distributed Lethality

In the near future, a hunter-killer SAG will bring a more powerful and lethal force package into the fight with the partial integration of unmanned systems. A near-future force package could include a NIFC-CA capable DDG with an MH-60R detachment, littoral combat ships with scan eagle unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and an anti-submarine warfare continuous trail unmanned vessel (ACTUV)- DARPA’s latest unmanned vessel built with a sensor package optimized to track submarines. These new capabilities bring  unprecedented flexibility to  warfighters, and commanders in theater will have additional options to tailor adaptive force packages based on the perceived threat or mission.

The next step in the evolution of distributed lethality will be to add more advanced weapons to every ship—from energy weapons to the rail gun—and fully incorporate unmanned systems into  future force packages. The ultimate vision is hunter-killer SAGs comprised of unmanned underwater vehicles, unmanned surface vehicles, and UAVs under the command of a single manned ship. These unmanned platforms will create a massive constellation of sensors and weapons that will transform every ship in the Navy into a lethal, flexible, and fully distributed force to reckon with—the Unmanned Netted Lethality concept.

It is evident that the Unmanned Netted Lethality concept relies on the aggressive development and integration of unmanned, and eventually fully autonomous, systems into the fleet..  Controlled autonomy is fundamental for the Unmanned Netted Lethality concept to be effective.  While autonomy brings many benefits, there are concerns as well—unintended loss of control, compromise by adversaries, accountability, liability, and trust, to name a few. The solution to mitigate these concerns is to manage the level of autonomy with a manned ship as an extension of the commanding officer’s combat system. Employing various levels of autonomy control, from completely manual to completely autonomous, gives the power to the decision makers to set the level of autonomy based on the prevailing circumstance and allows unmanned system utilization in any environment.   

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SOUTH CHINA SEA (Feb. 19, 2015) – Sailors assigned to Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 35, Detachment 2, prepare an MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned autonomous helicopter for flight operations aboard the littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Conor Minto) 

The mission will drive the level of autonomy. For instance, 20 years from now, during the first Unmanned Netted Lethality hunter-killer SAG deployment and while transiting in safe waters, the command ship will control the operations of an unmanned vessel until it is in restricted waters. Then, the commanding officer will change the level of autonomy into a cooperative mode in which the unmanned systems quickly create a constellation of passive and active sensors to increase overall maritime awareness. Once a crisis transitions into combat operations, the commanding officer will place the unmanned systems into a fully autonomous status with two primary missions: sense and destroy  enemy forces while protecting the manned ship by creating a lethal cluster around it. This layered approach to autonomy increases overall trust in unmanned systems in a responsible and palatable way for decision makers who are unquestionably accountable for the performance of these unmanned systems.

Cooperative independence is also an important feature, in which unmanned systems will perform complex tasks, both individually and in groups under the supervision of a commanding officer. Not one unmanned system should rely on another; if a system is destroyed or is taken off-line, each system should be able to continue with the mission independently but cooperatively with remaining systems.

Without a doubt and due in great part to the proliferation of unmanned systems, interoperability remains the hardest challenge to overcome. The bottom line is that these systems need to be developed with common and open software architecture to minimize interoperability challenges and maximize employment opportunities. The need to convey these requirements early in the acquisition process is fundamental so that new unmanned systems are designed with three primary characteristics: controlled autonomy, cooperative but independent functionality, and complete interoperability.

A Roadmap to Guide Change

Distributed lethality’s initial charter was to increase performance with no technology leaps, significant funding increase, or number of ship increases while having immediate to near-future effects. In the short term, this goal is achievable. However, in the near to long-term future, the Navy should continue to follow former General Electric’s CEO Jack Welch’s advice “Change before you have to.” The Unmanned Netted Lethality concept provides the Navy with a vision and a roadmap to guide the evolution of distributed lethality into the future. Incorporating unmanned systems into an Unmanned Netted Lethality concept will transform every manned ship in the Navy into a force package with a credible conflict changing capability.

Commander Javier Gonzalez is a Navy Federal Executive Fellow at the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and a career Surface Warfare Officer. These are his personal views and do not reflect those of John Hopkins University or the Department of the Navy.

Featured Image: ATLANTIC OCEAN (Feb. 6, 2012) Scan Eagle, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), sits on the flight deck after a successful test aboard the Whidbey Island-class amphibious dock-landing ship USS Gunston Hall (LSD 44) during a certification exercise (CERTEX).  (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Lauren G. Randall/ Released)